Politics & Policy

After November

Voting bracelets sit on a table during the Democratic presidential primary election at Madero Middle School in Chicago, Ill., March 17, 2020. (Joshua Lott/Reuters)
We should not delude ourselves into thinking that electing one president or another is a substitute for changing the country.

The odds, they are a-changin’.

On Thursday, Better Collective, which sounds like it ought to be an insufferable social-justice outfit but is in fact a Copenhagen-based gaming concern, announced that Joe Biden has surpassed Donald Trump in the wagering odds to become the next president of the United States, with Biden’s odds improving from 1/1 to 10/11 and Trump’s declining from 1/1 to 21/10.

So the bookies don’t like Trump’s chances, something that might be of concern to a man who has had famously bad luck with casinos.

There was no succor in the polls, either. From the New York Times: “President Trump is facing the bleakest outlook for his re-election bid so far, with his polling numbers plunging in both public and private surveys and his campaign beginning to worry about his standing in states like Ohio and Iowa that he carried by wide margins four years ago.” Trump is below 50 percent in Texas, where he leads Biden by only 4 points, is behind in Florida, behind in Georgia, behind in Nevada, behind in Michigan, behind in Arizona. In the swing states of Pennsylvania and Virginia, Trump’s poll numbers are almost as bad as they are in Maryland.

Chris Cillizza of CNN does the electoral math:

If Trump loses Texas (and wins everywhere else he won in 2016), he loses to Biden, 270 electoral votes to 268 electoral votes.

If Trump loses Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin (and wins everywhere else he won in 2016), he loses to Biden 278 to 260.

If Trump loses Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania (and wins everywhere else he won in 2016), he loses to Biden 279 to 259.

If Trump loses Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin (and wins everywhere else he won in 2016), he loses to Biden 276 to 262.

If Trump loses Arizona, Ohio and Wisconsin (and wins everywhere else he won in 2016), he loses to Biden 271 to 267.

New coronavirus cases are on the upswing in 20 states, including Texas, Florida, Arizona, Utah, Massachusetts, and California. The unemployment rate, though better than expected, is very high, and a robust and enduring recovery is far from assured, though there is some reason to be hopeful.

As Cillizza emphasizes in his analysis, there is much that can change between now and Election Day.

Republican elected officials and the conservative activists allied with them can do their own calculations about whether the USS Donald Trump is a sinking ship and, if so, whether they want to go down with it. Still, there are more pressing questions than that. Yes, the current situation looks pretty bad for the incumbent president, but that is mainly because it looks pretty bad for the American people.

The Americans who have died in the coronavirus pandemic are not coming back after Election Day. The income that has been lost from the economic convulsions associated with that pandemic is not likely to be replaced. The businesses that have been burned and looted are not going to get magically unburned and unlooted because an election goes one way or another. Some of our progressive friends greeted the voicing of concerns about the economic effect of the coronavirus quarantine as though they were proposals to sacrifice children to Mammon, and have treated concerns about the economic effects of the riots in the cities the same way. But the fact is that the people who are the most medically vulnerable are the people who are the most politically vulnerable and the most economically vulnerable.

The economy is a life-and-death issue as well as a dollars-and-cents issue. How it affects the hopes of this or that politician should be very close to the least of our concerns.

That a nation such as ours could be diminished so dramatically so quickly is an indictment of its leadership, including its political leadership, from President Trump all the way down to Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey and New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, a brace of buffoons if ever there were one. There is plenty of blame to go around for leaders outside of elected office, too: for the religious leaders bowing to the idol of political power, for the business leaders who have refused to look much beyond the next quarter, for the cowardly and partisan press. Because the political reality of the United States is very complex, we tend to try to simplify things by overstating the role of the president in our national life, thinking of him as a kind of priest-king who can receive our gratitude when things go well or be symbolically sacrificed when they do not.

But we should not delude ourselves into thinking that changing the president is a substitute for changing the country. We should worry less about Donald Trump’s prospects or Joe Biden’s and more about the country’s, which are not looking especially strong just at the moment.

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